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Yankees looking for Plan B to Cliff Lee - Targeting Jorge De La Rosa?

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It's true, the Yankees are looking at free-agent starter Jorge De La Rosa, should the market for their number 1 target not pan out, according to Daily News writers Mark Feinsand and Peter Botte.

With an interesting 2010 Free Agent Pitching market starting to take shape, the big dog available is Cliff Lee. The southpaw, after a strangely storied beginning to his career, posted a MLB-record high K/BB ratio of 10.28 - yes, that means he struck out 10 batters per walk allowed - numbers which have never been touched by a starting pitcher in the history of baseball.

Add in a nice run of postseason dominance (at least through the ALDS and the ALCS), and Cliff Lee has himself poised for a very handsome payday at the expense of a team looking for a true top-of-the-rotation starter.

So far, we've seen the New York Yankees interested, as well as the Washington Nationals, but the Texas Rangers aren't going to let their hard-bought rental go without a fight. Word on the street is that 7 or 8 other teams are interested, but the teams that will be able to plausibly offer Lee a superstar-sized contract are questionable.

The desperation that some of these teams may show in their attempts to sign Cliff Lee spells a potentially rich payday as well for the next best free agent pitchers on the market. The next best pitcher was thought to be Ted Lilly, but after he signed a 3-year extension with the Dodgers, the mantle of "best lefty available" falls on Jorge De La Rosa.

De La Rosa, after struggling through the beginning of his career between Arizona, Milwaukee, and Kansas City found success in Colorado under the tutelage of pitching coach Bob Apodaca. Since becoming a rotation fixture in Colorado, De La Rosa has remained somewhat of a wild pitcher, but has found his sheer strikeout stuff again, posting K/9's of 8.86, 9.39, and 8.36 through his 3-year stint with the Rockies. A southpaw who sits mid-90s and can touch 96mph when he needs to is sure to find work in the offseason, especially to the various runners-up in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes.

While the Rockies are obviously still interested in retaining their lefty, the price tag (as well as the impending arrival of 2008 1st round pick Christian Friedrich) will likely be the stopping point for Colorado. While he won't be nearly as expensive as Cliff Lee, the market will likely be decided between the Ted Lilly contract and whatever Lee gets in free agency. Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated sees De La Rosa as a bargain buy, and that a bidding team could "blow out the field" by offering DLR a 3-year, $24M contract. Frankly, that's well within the Rockies' budget, and if De La Rosa could really go for that little, there's no reason to think he couldn't remain comfortably in Denver for the next 3 years. It fits well with Colorado's window of contention, and could keep DLR close to Apodaca.

Still, desperation from teams that were prepared to offer Cliff Lee $17-$20M per year will certainly drive up the market for the Mexican lefthander, as those teams will have money burning holes in their pocket, and DLR provides a potential shutdown lefty in the rotation. The Yankees possibly entering the bidding for DLR (especially with the potential of Andy Pettitte retiring) will definitely shake things up.

Still, the Free Agent market hasn't really opened for business yet, and we're at the phase of a lot of feelers being sent out and a lot of posturing by most of the clubs, so don't put all of your free agents in one basket just yet.

**Update**

Add the Washington Nationals to that list, per Bill Ladson of MLB.com.